Long ago, perhaps the best teacher I ever had delivered a lesson.
He taught through a form of the Socratic, which meant that he posed questions to his students. When we answered, he would challenge us, pushing us to defend our positions and our thoughts.
Some students didn’t like this.
That’s where the lesson began.
He said questioning what we said demonstrated respect. It showed that he assumed we could back up what we were saying.
That we could defend our beliefs and support our convictions.
Only people who weren’t sure of what they thought or lacked confidence in their beliefs couldn’t stand to be questioned or challenged, he said.
That resonated with me then.
It resonates with me now.
I thought of that old teacher of mine when the dust-up between Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and Indiana media personality Abdul-Hakim Shabazz flared in recent days. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should report that TheStatehouseFile.com runs Abdul’s column from time to time.)
Rokita’s press secretary banned Abdul from a press conference. Abdul says the press secretary told him the press conference was for “credentialed media” only.
Abdul has media credentials issued by the state of Indiana. He’s hosted radio shows for years. He writes for a series of publications, including one he owns and edits. He has a large audience.
Something he wrote or said must have irritated our thin-skinned attorney general.
It likely wasn’t partisan.
Abdul presents himself as one of the relatively few Black Republicans in positions of prominence. Ideologically, he’s a somewhat moderate free-market conservative with strong libertarian leanings. That means he doesn’t want government taxing people any more than it must—or trying to rule their private lives.
One might think that he and Todd Rokita, who is also a Republican, would be in basic agreement on most things.
If so, one doesn’t understand Rokita well at all.
Rokita doesn’t like to be questioned.
Some years ago, when he was serving in Congress, Rokita made national news when a memo about how he should be staffed leaked. The memo told staffers who were driving him that he had to have black coffee, that he had to be informed every time the car was about to make a turn, that staffers were not to make eye contact with him and that they had to have the car parked in a precise way when they picked him up.
It stopped just short of dictating to those staffers that they were required to bow in his presence and back away after he had dismissed them.
A man who requires that level of obeisance from people who already have committed themselves to him isn’t likely to be secure enough to have his judgment, his actions or his policies questioned.
That’s too bad.
For him, that is.
We don’t have kings in this country. We elect public servants who are supposed to be accountable to the people they serve.
Most of those people can’t take time out to drive to the Statehouse to attend a press conference with the attorney general. They rely on journalists to report to them what these public officials say and do.
So, when the attorney general for Indiana, tells Abdul he can’t attend a press conference that same attorney general is really telling the members of Abdul’s audience that he’s not going to honor his obligation to them.
The people who put him in office.
But that’s not surprising.
When Todd Rokita mounted a campaign a while back, he came up with a slogan that was about as genuine as a $3 bill.
“Defeat the elite” was the message the phony populist in tasseled loafers delivered.
If he was being true to himself and his beliefs, Todd Rokita could have drawn one from history that was far more appropriate.
“Let them eat cake.”